My fiance and I come from different backgrounds. He’s Jewish and I’m Christian, and we have a good relationship. However, this time of the year it becomes an issue, and we usually end up fighting over what to do and neither of us ends up happy. What’s your advice for how interfaith couples can handle religious differences around the holidays?
If you end up fighting over this issue, that tells me three things: 1) poor communication, 2) neither of you is having your needs met and 3) you each have some fiery passion that potentially could be used in a much better way. Fortunately, you have an otherwise good relationship that can withstand the December dilemma. Build on that bond. Be open-minded, be flexible and be willing to compromise.
If one person agrees to forgo his/her holiday just to avoid conflict, then resentment will surely brew. You have choices other than just celebrating one or the other. A lot of couples celebrate by attending services together and decorating to reflect both holidays. Others make it more secular by celebrating peace and the spirit of the season.
What’s important to you
Have a conversation about the other person’s religion. Find out what aspects of it are most important to one another. Is it going to midnight mass? Attending synagogue? Is it about celebrating the actual meaning of the holidays or is it more about the traditions of the holidays? Christmas and Hanukkah are deeply rooted in family customs as it is often those that are missed — not necessarily the different religious views. For example, lighting the Menorah or decorating the Christmas tree. Participating in these things invokes a sense of comfort, identity and reinforced values. Rather than getting bogged down in what separates you, discuss what bonds you: similarities in the meaning of the holiday traditions and mutual desires to maintain them … and dare I say, indulging in latkes and eggnog?
–Jonathan Alpert is a licensed psychotherapist. E-mail him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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